In: Criminal Defense

When can the police search your vehicle?

Let’s face it, being stopped by the police is not a pleasant experience. Rarely does a stop occur where the intent is to have a friendly reminder of the traffic laws. While the stop commonly entails a check of the driver’s license and insurance status, as well as a simple warrant check, there may be times where the driver is asked to step out of the vehicle. The officer may also ask to perform a search.

Most drivers may not understand the extent of a law enforcement officer’s powers to perform a search and may be intimidated into allowing an illegal search. As such, this post will highlight a driver’s basic rights under the Fourth Amendment as it applies to automobile stops.

For uninitiated, the Fourth Amendment guarantees private citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. This means that where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, the police must obtain a warrant that is signed by a judge prior to performing a search.

These places include a person’s home, their luggage and in many situations, an electronic device such as a tablet or computer.  When it comes to a person’s car, an expectation of privacy still exists, but the police may conduct what is called a “plain view” search without a warrant. Essentially, an officer can look through a car’s windows to find illegal items in plain sight. Without a warrant, an officer may not conduct a search your vehicle without your express permission. However, if you are arrested, the police will search the entire vehicle.

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